By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Sen. Cynthia Villar has assured that the coconut levy fund will be distributed to farmers under the proposed law creating a coconut farmers and industry trust fund.
Villar, on Saturday, said there is no conflict between the decision of the Sandiganbayan and the Congress-approved measure that would establish the P105-billion coconut trust fund as she maintained that farmers will benefit from the amount.
“I really do not see any conflicts. All the money in the fund will really go to the coconut farmers. We made sure of that. It is aimed at lifting coconut farmers, who are among the poorest in the country, out of poverty,” Villar said in a text message.
The Sandiganbayan, in a decision August 7, ruled that the some P74 billion worth of assets from the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) is owned by the state and must “be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”
Although inferior to the Supreme Court, the anti-graft court upheld the high tribunal’s 2004 and 2014 decisions declaring the government as owner of the coco levy funds. It reversed its 2017 decision allowing more hearings on the civil case involving United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and the Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corporation (Cocolife).
On August 1, the Congress bicameral panel approved the final version of the bill creating a coconut farmers and industry fund, responding to the SC’s September 2017 ruling that a law should be passed to be able to disburse the amount.
Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, explained anew that P5 billion of the proposed P105-bilion coco levy fund will be distributed every year to farmers, through the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
The bill also stipulates that the P5 billion should be spent for the following: shared facilities program, (30 percent); farm improvements (30 percent); scholarship program, (15 percent); empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives, (15 percent); and health benefits (10 percent).
On top of the trust fund, the PCA shall receive an P10-billion allocation from the annual national budget, to be earmarked for: infrastructure (20 percent); shared facilities (20 percent); planting and replanting and establishment of nurseries (20 percent); intercropping (10 percent); research and development (10 percent); credits (10 percent); creation of new products and marketing, (5 percent); and fertilization, (5 percent).
Villar earlier said the PCA would be mandated by the proposed law to follow the allocation. 3.5-billion coconut farmers are expected to benefit from the coco levy fund, she said.